The quest for the golden dragon boy: sex-selection in Vietnam
For the people of Vietnam, January 23 marked the beginning of the Year of the Golden Dragon (Nham Thin).
This year is thought to be the most auspicious of the 60-year zodiac cycle for the birth of a child, especially if the child is a boy.
Many couples will resort to any possible means to increase their chance of having a son this year, despite the illegality of sex-selective practices in Vietnam.
Like several other Asian nations, Vietnam now faces a rising sex ratio at birth (SRB): In 1999, the ratio was the “average” 105 boys to 100 girls, but by 2006, the ratio had grown to 110:100.
According to Vietnam’s 2009 Census, the SRB imbalance stands at 110.5. The census also revealed that sex selection is practiced most in the northern Red River Delta provinces (where the ratio can be as high as 130.7:100) and among wealthier households.
The preference for baby boys is linked to pervasive traditional beliefs, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
Vietnamese tradition dictates that male descendants carry on the family lineage and support their parents when they are old.
According to a popular Confucian saying: “With one son you have a descendant, with 10 daughters you have nothing.”
“The idea that sons are responsible for their parents in old age needs to be revisited.
“In reality, many women support their parents too but in secret or by transferring money to their brothers who then give it to the parents,” said Dr Khuat Thu Hong, co-director of the Institute for Social Development Studies in Hanoi.
She said in order to stop the disappearance of Vietnam’s girls, women’s contribution to society needs to be valued and acknowledged more.
Article 63 of the Vietnamese constitution states that “all citizens regardless of their sex have equal rights in all respects, political, economic, cultural, social and in family life.
“Any discrimination against women and violation of women’s dignity are strictly prohibited.”
The rising proportion of boys is thought to be a consequence of a combination of the declining birthrate (due to Vietnam’s two child policy), and improved access to ultrasound screening during pregnancy, particularly during the second trimester.
Abortion is legal on request in Vietnam up to 22 weeks’ gestation, although it is illegal for the purposes of sex selection.
Some fear that if the SRB continues to rise, efforts to stop sex-selective abortions could have the unintended effect of broader restrictions on access to abortion.
The Vietnamese government has banned the advertisement of sex selection services, and access to websites advising on or promoting sex selection has been blocked. About 30,000 copies of books offering such advice were also burned in 2009.
However, rising wealth in the country has provided some couples with the means to circumvent the law.
One woman, named only as Hai, told the Guardian that she and her husband travelled to Bangkok, along with two other Vietnamese couples, in order to avail themselves of legal, and widely advertised, sex-selective IVF services.
Hai, now expecting twin sons, is already the mother of two girls. As a state employee, she stands to lose her job as a penalty for exceeding the two-child limit.
Hai would rather lose her job than her husband, however. She suggested the IVF treatment to him after overhearing his mother advise him to have an extramarital affair so he could have a son this year.
Poor women, meanwhile, have had a different role to play in the lucrative Thai fertility business – as trafficked surrogate mothers.
Fifteen trafficked Vietnamese women, including four who insisted that they were tricked into surrogacy and held against their will, were discovered in Bangkok in February 2011.